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Communications Researcher Finds Honesty Has Political Payoff

Date: March 10, 2000
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Archive: Research News

In the wake of Super Tuesday, the two men who want to be the nation's next president may want to focus on honesty, if they want to win. A presidential primary study by University of Cincinnati communication professor Judith Trent finds that, for the first time since she began studying the presidential primary in 1988, Americans rate "honesty" as the most important characteristic they seek in a presidential candidate.

"I think this is obviously a reaction to a wide variety of factors, including Clinton's impeachment problems, public concerns over campaign finance reform, negative advertising and candidate assertions regarding their personal integrity," said Trent. She bases her conclusions on a survey of the public and the media that her team of researchers conducted in New Hampshire in the last days before that state's primary this year. Her previous studies occurred in 1988, 1992 and 1996.

Her team found that across gender and age lines, both the public and the media agree that honesty is the No. 1 characteristic for the ideal candidate. In the last three presidential elections, the most desirable quality the public and the media sought in a presidential candidate was the ability to "talk about the nation's problems," according to Trent's earlier studies.

But for the public and the media this year, that desire has become less important. Trent argues this may indicate America's general sense of economic confidence. "With no perceived economic or military threat, it may be that voters are focusing on issues of personal character."

Trent also found that in keeping with 1996, the public continues to believe that high moral integrity is the third most important presidential characteristic.

For the first time this year, Trent asked about party affiliation. For both the media and the public, it ranked near the bottom of the list. The public ranked it No. 11 and the media ranked it 10.

The findings below are based on data collected in an ongoing research project aimed at determining the characteristics that voters find most important in a presidential candidate. The data for the 2000 presidential campaign was collected at 13 campaign events during the nine days leading up to the New Hampshire primary (Feb. 1, 2000). The total number of completed questionnaires was 665. Of those, 170 were completed by members of the media and 495 by the public. The breakdown of this sample by party affiliation was 219 Republicans, 171 Democrats and 275 Independents. The sample consisted of 373 males and 292 females.

1. Honesty1. Honesty
2. Talks about nation's problems2. Talks about nation's problems
3. Has solutions to problems3. Moral character
4. Moral character4. Forceful public speaker
5. Remain calm, cautious5. Remain calm, cautious
6. Forceful public speaker6. Experience in office
7. Experience in office7. Faithful to spouse
8. Energetic, aggressive leader8. Has solutions to problems
9. Faithful to spouse9. Energetic, aggressive leader
10. Major party member*10. Younger than 65 years old
11. Younger than 65 years old11. Major party member*
12. Male12. Male
*added for first time

1. Talks about nation's problems1. Talks about nation's problems
2. Honesty2. Honesty
3. Forceful public speaker3. Moral character
4. Has solutions to problems4. Has solutions to problems
5. Remain calm, cautious5. Remain calm, cautious
6. Moral character6. Forceful public speaker
7. Experience in office7. Energetic, aggressive leader
8. Energetic, aggressive leader8. Faithful to spouse
9. Faithful to spouse9. Experience in office
10. Younger than 60/65 years old10. Younger than 60/65 years old
11. Male11. Male

1. Talks about nation's problems1. TIE: Talks about nation's problems/Honesty
2. Honesty2. TIE: see above
3. Experience in office3. Has solutions to problems*
4. Has solutions to problems*4. Moral character
5. Moral character5. Remain calm, cautious
6. Remain calm, cautious*6. Energetic, aggressive leader
7. Forceful public speaker7. Forceful public speaker
8. Energetic, aggressive leader8. Experience in office
9. Faithful to spouse9. Faithful to spouse
10. Younger than 60/65 years old10. Younger than 60/65 years old
11. Male11. Male
*added for first time

1. Talks about nation's problems1. Talks about nation's problems
2. Honesty2. Honesty
3. Experience in office3. Energetic, aggressive leader
4. Energetic, aggressivve leader4. Forceful public speaker
5. Forceful public speaker5. Moral character
6. Moral character6. Faithful to spouse
7. Faithful to spouse7. Experience in office
8. Younger than 60/65 years old8. Younger than 60/65 years old
9. Male9. Male

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